Tips to improve pastures

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag and rural rep

What are you going to plant this spring for your pasture program?
The first thing to plant is fence posts. By far the biggest gains in pasture management come from a rotational grazing system, with at least 10 paddocks and preferably more.
Electric fence allows you to do that effectively and conveniently. Cattle should be trained to electric fence and once trained, they will respect it and allow you to conveniently mange your pastures.
A one- or two-wire electric fence reliably should contain livestock provided you are providing palatable quality forage in sufficient quantity to meet their needs.
Managed pastures will provide significantly more forage for your livestock over the grazing season, and will allow you to minimize the impact of a dry summer on pasture growth.
Once you have a rotational grazing system in place which benefits your livestock by increasing the forage productivity, there are other steps you can implement to enhance your grazing program.
Over-seeding existing pastures with a legume will help to increase forage production and forage quality.
White/red clover (one-two pounds/acre or three-five pounds/acre, respectively) and trefoil (two-three pounds/acre) are the preferred species for Ontario situations.
They can be broadcast early in the spring and should establish reasonably well provided there is good seed-to-soil contact and there is sufficient soil moisture to grow the seedling plants.
Mixing some trefoil seed in the salt or mineral is another easy way to increase the legume content in a pasture.
If you are planting a new pasture, consider how you are going to graze it–type of livestock and do you want early pasture, full grazing season, or late fall for stockpile pasture?
Orchard grass and meadow brome are excellent choices for early grazing through to early fall. Reed Canary grass is an excellent grazing species that does better than most species in moist soil and also does well in dry soils because of its large spreading root system.
If you want to emphasize late-fall grazing or even stockpiling for use into November and December, then tall fescue would be the better choice.
Including legumes in the pasture mix is essential to get maximum production; alfalfa provides high-quality forage and has good tolerance of summer heat and dry soil conditions.
White clover is an excellent grazing species that also has the capability to spread through the pasture.
The clovers and alfalfa run the risk of causing bloat if they make up more than half of the animals diet, although with proper management, you can go well beyond this level.